Former and current Congressman Ithacan Mrazek publishes his 12th novel | Books
Former five-term congressman Robert J. Mrazek, now an award-winning author, published his 12th novel this week. The thriller, titled ‘The Dark Circle’, is the second in a series that details the adventures of former Army officer Jake Cantrell and his beloved sidekick, Bug, a greyhound he rescued while he was serving in Afghanistan.
The novel begins with Cantrell working as a campus security guard at the fictional St. Andrews College, but he quits when complaints arise after he used force to break up a fight between two drug-crazed students. Jake does not remain unemployed for long, however; Lauren Kennsiton, editor of the “Groton Journal”, offers him $200 a day to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a talented student musician.
As Cantrell travels upstate New York, he attempts to unravel a web of issues involving opioids, sex trafficking, and corruption. Cantrell makes more than a few enemies as his investigation draws the attention of powerful New Yorkers.
Loosely set in Groton, “The Dark Circle” weaves together fictional and factual details about upstate New York.
“Groton is truly Ithaca. St. Andrews School is a smaller version of Cornell,” Mrazek explained.
Readers will notice many local references in the novel, landmarks like Ithaca’s Fall Creek and Rochester’s Kodak Tower, Cornell University’s School of Hospitality Administration and the annual Slope Day music festival in Cornell which is recast as the St. Andrews Slope Day festival in the novel.
As a 1967 Cornell alumnus who currently splits his time between Ithaca and Maine, Mrazek knows the area well and has seen it evolve over the decades.
“The pharmacies, the hardware store, the courthouse, the Woolworth five hundred: they’re all gone. They’re empty. The big engine of upstate New York was the railroads. The railroads have flourished here for many years, and when the railways left, the villages died,” Mrazek explained.
“The tragedy of a dwindling set of small communities serves as an undercurrent to the novel and contrasts with the physical beauty of the Finger Lakes,” Mrazek explained.
According to Mrazek, one of the most challenging aspects of writing this novel was creating a “worthy” villain.
“I hope the reader is thrilled with what happens to him at the end after all the tragedy he caused,” Mrazek said.
Reflecting on his transition from politics to writing, Mrazek explained that his time as a politician was just a detour from his true passion.
“I ended up taking a 30-year detour, if you will, from what I wanted to do in life. But when I left Congress, I was like, ‘Okay, you wanted be a writer. Let’s see if you can be a writer,” Mrazek said.
While that was his true calling, Mrazek’s early writing career was far from smooth. His first two books – one of which took two and a half years to write – were not published and his savings were running out.
Mrazek had doubts about his success as an author. But that all changed when he took his then high school-aged daughter to visit the Cornell campus.
“[During this visit,] I woke up at two in the morning with the idea of a Civil War novel. And I dictated in my little shelf, for two hours, what the book was going to be. And that one won the Michael Shaara Award for Civil War Novel of the Year and became a bestseller. And I thought, ‘Okay, [I] can do it,” Mrazek said.
As a congressman, Mrazek used to meet hundreds of people in a single day. Now his daily work routine mostly consists of him and his laptop.
“I love the writer’s life as much as I’ve ever enjoyed public life, but they’re totally different,” Mrazek said.
“Couch hour” is one of his favorite methods of writing, when he’s not working in his writing “sanctuary,” a cozy, sunny room that conjures up images from Thoreau to Walden.
“My wife will come downstairs and see me lying on the sofa in the library [and] say, ‘What are you doing? I thought you were writing. I [reply]”I am,” he said.
Mrazek doesn’t shy away from tackling difficult subjects in this novel and there are some macabre scenes. But his writing also incorporates positive themes, including courage and love, along with an occasional dash of humor.
“If I didn’t have the creative outlet to escape into my imagination every day with the characters I write about, whether they were real or not, I would be a very depressed person about where we are in this world,” Mrazek said. said. “I write [books] for my own pleasure in the hope that they will please others.
Mrazek also said he strives to write books that include strong female characters.
“I have two young granddaughters aged eight and six who I hope will one day read my books and feel that Grandpa did a good job,” Mrazek said.
Julia Nagel is a Cornell Daily Sun reporter who works on The Sun’s summer fellowship at The Ithaca Times